Tuesday 26 October 2010

Just a Thought

@ BirdGuides - would it not be easier to list the places where there aren't any Waxwings at the moment? You could start with Leicester...

Friday 15 October 2010

Don't say things like that!

County recorders and records committees everywhere were today bracing themselves for even more bullshit raptor claims than usual after Chris Packham told people to look out for Long-legged and Rough-legged Buzzards migrating with Common Buzzards on last night's Autumnwatch Unsprung. They turn up particularly on the Isle of Sheppey apparently, so watch out KOS....

Edit: Typical! There's me taking the piss as usual, and then a Long-legged Buzzard only goes and flies over my garden! Managed to get a record shot - hopefully this will show other people what to look out for. Certainly makes up for finding fuck-all in Shetland again!!

Tuesday 12 October 2010

All the way from Dauria

The plan today was to twitch pies and Otters, and also to find something rare on the 'Glorious Twelfth'. Two out of three achieved – guess which one we failed with!

Starting at Voe, another furtive entrance was made through the anonymous brown door of the Johnson & Wood bakery (anyone would think they were selling porn in there or something!), resulting in the purchase of another macaroni pie and a cheese, bean and tattie. No birds at Voe apart from a flyover Redpoll sp.

A look around the amazing garden at Sandgarth in absolutely flat calm conditions produced just one Yellow-browed Warbler, and then it was on to the ferry terminal at Toft. This is apparently one of the most reliable places in Shetland to see Otters, and sure enough we saw one almost immediately, just off the jetty. It seemed completely oblivious to our presence about 50 yards away, and continued swimming around, popping up every few minutes with a fish. I rattled off loads of photos, but most weren't worth keeping. This was probably the best:

I think we checked some other places after that, but I can't really remember – when you've looked at one barren patch of bushes you've looked at them all. Kergord was equally birdless, so we headed for Strand Loch, where there was a Spotted Sandpiper yesterday. It wasn't there today, but a Long-tailed Duck was new for the holiday list, and yet another Redpoll sp which didn't land.

Somewhere along the line we received a text about an Isabelline Shrike at Scousburgh. However, Mark also had a text from Birdnet about an Isabelline Wheatear, so we were a little confused. The best thing seemed to be to go and have a look for ourselves, so we did. Arriving at Scousburgh, we discovered that it was actually at Spiggie, having flown across the valley, and was in fact an adult female 'Daurian' Shrike (according to those who know about such esoteric matters). First time I've ever seen anything from Dauria. And I still don't know where it is!

The light was terrible by this time, but I managed to get a few reasonable shots at 800 ISO, of which this was the best:

Leaving the shrike wondering why its carefully cached Blackcap 'larder' had moved from where it left it to a more prominent position (courtesy of a certain photographer, tut, tut), I wandered down the road to Loch of Spiggie in a last desperate attempt to get Coot on the holiday list. Couldn't find a Coot, but I did add Daurian Moorhen, Daurian Mute Swan and 3 Daurian, sorry, Slavonian Grebes.

All that's left to do now is drink the last of the whisky and try not to string anything tomorrow. We may not have found much, but at least we haven't fucked anything up this year!!!

Monday 11 October 2010

Nearly time to go home

It was a lovely sunny day today here in Shetland, so we decided to go bird spotting. We saw lots of lovely birds – Robins, Black Caps, Chiff Chaffs and Gold Crests. I took some snaps of the Gold Crests with my camera.

There was also a nasty grey and white bird at Sumburgh Farm eating the other birds. I think it might have been a Shrike. The RSPB should do something about it.

Then we were told about a Bonelli's Warbler at Lerwick, so we went there and looked at it, but it was a bit boring. There were a lot of men in coats chasing it around, so we didn't stay long. I was also pleased to see some Collared Doves here, which was a new bird for my List.

After that we looked at some other places, but didn't see many other birds. Then we came home and had our tea and now I'm drinking some whisky. Tomorrow we are going to go to some other places to look at birds.

Sunday 10 October 2010

Where's our Bluetail then?

Another nine hours in the field today, including walking all the way from Virkie to the lighthouse, in apparently ideal weather conditions, and for what? Pretty much fuck-all, that's what. At least it wasn't just us though – the only new rarity found anywhere in Shetland today was a Black-throated Thrush near Scalloway. Can't be arsed to write anything else tonight. Maybe it will happen tomorrow....

Saturday 9 October 2010

Nine hour marathon

A look round the crop fields first thing produced not a lot other than 9 Lapland Buntings and a Greenland-type Common Redpoll. Then, stopping only to stock up on provisions for the day at the Toab shop, Mark and I set off heroically to walk to Quendale. We already knew there had been a Dusky Warbler there earlier, and we did manage to see it, but views were poor. In the same area we found this obliging Red-breasted Flycatcher, and also a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers.

But that was about it for all our efforts. We narrowly missed finding an Olive-backed Pipit at the bottom end of the burn; presumably it had dropped in after we'd walked that section. Or maybe we're just not very good at finding rare birds. Either way, we didn't see it, and it was found by the usual Quendale suspects, Paul Harvey and Roger Riddington, accompanied by Martin Garner. On hearing this news we walked back up the burn for a second time with them, mainly because we were worried they would find something else we'd missed! We had further crap views of the Dusky Warbler, but nothing new.

With birds continuing to arrive all over Shetland today, and more easterlies forecast for tomorrow, all we can do is keep plugging away and hope that eventually we will find something good.

Friday 8 October 2010

Persistence pays off

So, what did you do on the 8th of October in Shetland in a perfect south-easterly? Um, I took some nice photos of a Twite, a couple of Shags and a Turnstone:

In between taking photos of common birds we thrashed around the crops at Toab and saw a Yellow-browed Warbler and not much else, then went down to the Sumburgh area. I read recently on a blog that shall be nameless that there are '160 observers scouring every nook and cranny of Shetland' at the moment. Well if there are that many people here I haven't seen them - there were precisely three of us scouring the entire area between Grutness and Sumburgh Head this afternoon. Maybe the other 157 were all off twitching all the rare birds which turned up all over the place today and gave us the motivation to carry on, even though we hadn't seen much other than lots of Goldcrests.

After several laps of the farm, we walked down the 'White's Thrush ditch' towards the hotel, and stumbled upon a nice Pallas's Warbler feeding behind a wall with two Yellow-broweds, two Chiffchaffs and two Spotted Flycatchers. Didn't manage to get any keepable photos of it though because, as has been noted before, I can't take photos of rare birds.

After this we went up to the lighthouse, where, apart from lots more Goldcrests, we didn't see a lot apart from this newly-arrived Short-eared Owl:

The weather looks even better tomorrow, so we'll probably do it all again, although I suspect that being a Saturday there will be a few more people around.

Thursday 7 October 2010

Halfway House

Six days gone; another six to go.

Another quiet day with continuing 'nothingy' moderate southerly winds. Walked round the Toab crop fields/iris beds/ditches several times, but nothing new apart from a Barred Warbler. Got a reasonable photo of a Lapland Bunting perched on a fence first thing, and also a nice Shetland Starling (1st-winter male for anyone who's interested in that sort of thing) in Rob's garden this evening. Tomorrow, however, looks like a totally different kettle of halibut, with the wind going round to south-east again, and then full-on easterly for several days. Early night tonight, and no whisky. Mainly because we finished it last night!

I was going to keep this and pretend I'd taken it in Leicestershire when I got back, but I thought that might have been a bit too obvious...

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Gratuitous Twitching

With the weather looking unpromising for finding anything round here, we headed north today for a spot of twitching. First stop was Voe, where there were a few birds, but nothing terribly exciting. However, a major discovery was that pies are available for sale direct from the bakery there. Enquiries were made, and – result! – the 'King of Pies', the fabled macaroni cheese and bean was 'obtained', along with a cheese, bean and tattie. Having eaten the macaroni pie, I am in full agreement with Mark that this is unbeatable (at least in Shetland – I think the Lochinver Larder's offerings might top it, at least in the pastry department!).

On to Eshaness, where the Buff-bellied Pipit at Tangwick initially only showed itself to Mark before disappearing. So we went off to the lighthouse to look at the 2 Buff-breasted Sandpipers – I got my regulation piss-poor photo of one of them:

We then went back to where the Buff-bellied Pipit had been earlier, and had crippling views of it from the car. This time even I couldn't fuck it up – this is undoubtedly the best photo of a BB rarity I've ever taken, although that's not saying much. It was also my 200th Shetland bird – damn, I forgot to get that T-shirt made up!

After this we didn't see a great deal, my first Yellow-browed Warbler of the holiday and a Jack Snipe, both at Isbister, being the only birds of any note.

Silly photos of the day – Mark being attacked by a ravenous pie-eating cat at Orbister:

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Filling a hole

Not much to write about today – the two highlights of a very windy day were 1) filling in a gaping and extremely tarty hole (oo-er) on my 'insufferably smug, self-righteous bastard' (in other words self-found) list: a Barred Warbler briefly behind the Toab shop this afternoon – get in! and 2) the even briefer appearance of a lasagne pie in the Toab shop shortly afterwards, which was a fitting celebration.

I managed to get possibly the worst photo ever of a Barred Warbler to satisfy any doubters of my claim before it fucked off over the fields towards Quendale Bay, never to be seen again.

Apart from that, it was a case of slogging round the Greater Virkie area all day seeing very little. Given the weather forecast of continuing strong southerly winds, I suspect this will be the case until Friday/Saturday. And then it will all kick off big time if the current forecast is correct.

In the meantime, here's a nice photo of a Brambling:

Monday 4 October 2010

Still all to play for

Fortunately we decided to give the Pallas's Gropper a miss first thing this morning and wait for the inevitable crowd to bugger off before heading to Levenwick. As a result, we were not in any way involved in the debacle that was to follow. The Great Grey Shrike was still in the willows first thing, and then we finally caught up with the Radde's Warbler at Sumburgh Farm. This was showing quite well and I managed to get a half decent photo of it:

Mark was getting increasingly twitchy though, and we were beginning to think we might have to take him to the doctor for some Ritalin. Eventually we gave in and set off for Levenwick via the Toab shop (still no pies!). But all Mark's pre-tick nerves were in vain: just as we arrived the first doubts were beginning to be expressed about the bird, and on viewing photos on John's laptop, it was obvious that it was in fact just a Grasshopper Warbler. Arse. I need Gropper for my Shetland list, but couldn't raise the enthusiasm to give the irises more than a half-hearted kick before giving up.

As we were walking back up the hill, news came through that the Booted Warbler at Channerwick had been re-identified (or rather confirmed, as the original observers apparently suspected that's what it was) as a Sykes' Warbler. As that was going to be our next port of call anyway, we shot off to see that. After half a dozen flight views it finally showed reasonably well down near the beach, but not for long enough to get any photos. Hurrah. A splendid tick, which made up for not seeing a Pallas's Gropper. And I'm sure I'll see one of those eventually if I keep coming to Shetland for long enough!

Next on the agenda was a pie twitch to Sandwick. Arriving just after those bastards from Levenwick had cleaned out the shelves, it looked like we had dipped again, but no, Mark in his role as self-styled President of the British Pie Munching Association, did his 'do you know who I am?' routine to the woman behind the counter and as if by magic a batch of lasagne pies appeared! Unfortunately by this time I had already purchased a Chinese chicken sandwich, which was very nice, but no substitute for a lasagne pie. A quick look around a very windy Hoswick produced nothing more than a Pied Flycatcher, so it was back to the house for a cup of tea. Back at Virkie there was a 1st-winter Little Gull on the Pool – another Shetland tick for me.

And so to the 'score' (or should that be skor?) – does a misidentification count as an own goal? If so, it's 1-1, or perhaps 0-0 if the Gropper cancels out the Swainson's? No doubt the Levenwick Lepers will argue that it's really back to 1-0, but either way there's still plenty of time (9 days to be precise) for us to come back. We'll just have to be doubly on our guard now to avoid joining the ever-growing list of 'gurners' (see Brown Flycatcher thread on Birdforum!) this autumn.

Post-pub edit: I felt John Hague's description of the Sykes' Warbler's supercilium deserved a wider audience: "it sort of peters out behind the eye like a dribble of spunk." I'd love to see the finders include that gem in their BBRC description!

Sunday 3 October 2010

Sack the Manager!

Not content with their Swainson's Thrush yesterday, the Levenwick Leviathans (can't really call them the Levenwick Losers any more!) gripped us off again with a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler in the irises at South Punds just as it was getting dark this evening! Can we come back from 2-0 down? Hmmm.

Meanwhile, down here in the Virkie/Sumburgh area, despite apparently perfect south-easterlies and showers, there were far fewer birds today. We tried to see the Radde's Warbler at Sumburgh Farm, but failed (it reappeared after we left of course), and the only bird of any note was a very flighty Great Grey Shrike around the Virkie Willows (and briefly in Rob's garden), which I managed to get this poor photo of as it landed briefly about 200 yards away. At least you can tell what it is.

Saturday 2 October 2010

Lots of birds; lots of birders

We arrived at Sumburgh at 11:00 today after an uneventful journey to find Shetland literally sinking under the weight of birds. I can't remember there being so many migrants around in early October as there are at the moment. A fairly thorough flog of the crop fields around Toab and Exnaboe produced: Short-toed Lark, Bluethroat, Black Redstart, 4 Lapland Buntings, Redstart, 4+ Whinchats, Stonechat, loads of Bramblings, Garden Warbler, 2 Reed Buntings and lots of Goldcrests.

Around 5pm, Mark and I were at Sumburgh Head, where there was a very skulking Sedge Warbler in the rosebushes (Shetland tick!) when we were startled by a loud noise coming from the direction of Levenwick. It was the sound of a gauntlet being forcefully thrown down by John Hague, Andy Lawson & Dave Gray who had found a fucking Swainson's Thrush! If I'd been wearing a hat I'd have taken it off to them. You may have to wait a while for John's gripping account and photo though, as the WiFi where they are staying is currently not working.

As both of us had only ever seen one Swainson's (mine was 20 years ago and Mark's even longer than that) we thought we ought to go and have a look at it. Arriving at Levenwick we were greeted by a scene more reminiscent of Scilly than Shetland – there are about 50 people visible in this photo, and by the time we left I reckon the crowd had about doubled in size – unprecedented!

Anyway, we did see it, although not very well – I only saw it in flight a couple of times, but managed to see the distinctive Catharus underwing the second time.

One other notable sighting today was the Exnaboe 'Hitler cat', which some people may remember from my old blog a few years ago. He's still going strong, and was obviously contemplating a bit of trampolining when we saw him.

Will the challenge be taken up by the Sunnydell-ites? Stay tuned to find out....